Chase the elephants out of Brockville's 'district'



For a concise illustration of the challenge facing supporters of regional economic development, consider this:

When Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce president David Keenleyside met with Brockville council's economic development and planning committee earlier this month, he suggested removing "Brockville Chamber of Commerce" from the motion under discussion, to ensure it doesn't come across as a Brockville-driven effort.

Councillor Tom Blanchard convinced him to keep it in, arguing that, as long as the motion included the “District” in “Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce,” it would be seen as a business-driven regional initiative.

Not last night, however.

“I wouldn't call Prescott part of the 'Brockville and District,'” said Prescott Mayor Brett Todd in response.

While he joined fellow council members in backing the chamber motion to explore regional economic development, Todd had a few other comments on the subject of the broader region's mistrust of Brockville, and what Brockville apparently isn't doing to help cast aside that mistrust.

In particular, Todd seemed to take issue with comments made by his Brockville counterpart under a Recorder and Times online editorial about the recent Tomlinson decision.

The supposedly offending comments are the following: “The jobs continue to shift towards the service sectors as in all the Western world but it is also apparent that to date our loss of manufacturing has not been as dramatic as in much of Eastern Ontario (Gananoque, Prescott, Smiths Falls, Cornwall) although it is likely that the trend will continue in the near future and the pressure is on us to diversify our local economy – attract residents who will support the service economy – as our strategic plan suggests – and asphalt plants are contrary to.“

Singling out Gananoque, Smiths Falls, Prescott and Cornwall was taken by Todd as a sign of Brockville exceptionalism, and perhaps a direct slight to Prescott.

A closer read of Henderson's comments would suggest Todd is overreacting.

This is not a slight, or bragging on Brockville's part, but a statement of what Henderson takes to be statistical fact – followed by an admission that Brockville's good fortune likely won't last for much longer.

One can take issue with the accuracy of Henderson's facts (especially in light of the recent spate of good-news announcements in Prescott), by digging down into the numbers.

But to take it as an offence at first glance is unfortunate, and an indication that mistrust of Brockville, “the elephant in the room,” as Todd puts it, is particularly hard to displace.

It's a shame, because, while Keenleyside and his business colleagues face a Herculean task in getting North Grenville and Gananoque on board with a regional effort, Prescott is a different story.

Prescott is closer, has more in common with Brockville and both towns would do well to consider each other as part of the same “district.”